THE 4 NOVEMBER ELECTION of Barack Obama as president of the United States has inspired many to hope for a fresh start at home and abroad. Meanwhile, the state of Palestine remains critical, and yet many aspects of the Palestine question appear to have undergone little change over time. This issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies reflects both of these realities. It includes a special document file surveying the positions taken by Obama on the Arab-Israeli conflict that provide a benchmark for examining the incoming administration’s actions on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Other articles treat perennial but still salient topics, such as the earliest PalestinianZionist encounter in the late nineteenth century, which is examined by Yuval Ben-Bassat; the role of Islam in local politics, the subject of Lynn Welchman’s ethnographic study of competing legal frameworks in the emerging Palestinian judicial system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the role of external powers in the Palestine question, specifically that of France under President Fran¸cois Mitterrand, a subject addressed by diplomatic historian Jean-Pierre Filiu; and political organization in Palestinian refugee camps, which Randa Farah compares to the development of political structures among Sahrawi refugees.
Ben-Bassat carefully examines some of the first encounters between Zionist colonists and the indigenous population in Palestine, showing how the new arrivals dealt with their environment, and arguing that, in important respects, this interaction established patterns for later encounters between the two groups. In her article, Welchman shows how statutory law, Islamic law, and customary law interacted in the treatment of two disputes in the occupied Palestinian territories, shedding light on the difficulties of establishing a new legal system in a situation of occupation and feeble state structures. Filiu examines the lengthy presidential term of Mitterrand, always a staunch advocate of Israel, but one of the first western leaders to insist on the involvement of the Palestinians in the negotiations for their future, and on the necessity for a Palestinian state.
Taken together, these articles and the special document file provide a background against which to judge what may or may not change in American policy toward the conflict in Palestine, as well as a series of reminders of problems and issues that have been with us since its inception over a century ago.